In Review: Madden 13

A genuine criticism of sports video game franchises is that often an installment that features a significant shift in gameplay or backend innovation will signify little in the way of new developments in the following year. It wouldn’t be inaccurate to say that Madden 11 served as a slightly more polished roster update than Madden 10.

Madden 12 worked in some remodeled player animations and pre-game introductions, but it came up short in providing football gamers with the complete experience they are perpetually seeking. Enter: Madden 13. Armed with a new physics engine, a streamlined offline career mode, and the ability to take the dynasty experience online, Madden 13 may just be the most ambitious leap forward that any sports game franchise has ever taken.

What’s new

The greatest change to the Madden franchise on this go around is the new real-time physics Infinity Engine. Madden 13 delivers on the promise on physics you can feel by further incorporating things like individual player mass, speed, and body type into collisions. Player interactions, from hits to catch animations and beyond, look better and more realistic than ever before.

The presentation has seen a number of changes as well. Cut scenes feature more realistic camera angles (supplied by NFL Films camera operators), lighting and shading more accurately reflect time of day, all new Nike uniforms are included, and everything from stadiums to player models have been updated to look much sharper than previous incarnations.

Gone are the commentary duo of Chris Collinsworth and Gus Johnson, who have been jettisoned for the CBS tandem of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms. Nantz and Simms lead the pre-game with an appearance from the booth, which reflects the booth height and field location of each individual stadium. For instance, a game at Ralph Wilson Stadium will have the duo overlooking the field from the 25-yard line.

Career mode has been completely overhauled from an appearance perspective and functionality as well. There’s less fumbling through menus, and gamers assume much more control over things like player progression and roster management. The highly anticipated Connected Careers offer prospective gamers the opportunity to form their own online dynasty leagues, and thus put a massive dent in the armor of real-life interaction. Week-to-week developments in career mode now feature storylines that are dictated and attributed to real-life sports media figures like Chris Mortensen, Adam Schefter, and Skip Bayless. Whether you elect to begin a career as a first-round draft pick or as a coach, you can bank on Bayless “tweeting” negative vibes your way.

The good-to-great

The physics engine, as previously mentioned, is fantastic. Running backs pinball off of defenders with a realistic feel that’s never been portrayed in a video game, and hits can lead to an array of new interactions like stumbles, balance recovery, and falls. If you run directly into a defender, then you’re hitting the turf. Make a nice catch and collide with a teammate, and you’ll find yourself spinning towards the ground while trying to maintain balance. New catch and hit animations are a plenty, while QB throw animations and pass trajectories have been cleaned up to offer a more true to life experience.

Career mode, although similar to what’s previously been available, delivers a refreshing gaming experience thanks to new menus and several AI tweaks to free agency, scouting, and player development. If you choose to embark on career as a player, you will write your own backstory and be faced with a specific set of goals and attributes based on your draft position and play style. For instance, a pocket-passing QB selected in the first round will have higher expectations than a linebacker taken later in the draft.

As a self-professed realism junkie, the new Twitter integration with real-life NFL media types really enhanced my enthusiasm for career mode. In one of a few careers I’ve embarked on, I elected to assume control of the Buffalo Bills as head coach and VP. Ross Tucker applauded the move via his Twitter account, saying that the Bills needed someone with a vision. Skip Bayless, on the other hand, blasted my hiring by calling it another mistake in a long line of miscues from the Bills. Who doesn’t want to prove that weasel wrong?

The bad-to-not so good

The commentary of Nantz and Simms is great. You actually hear Simms awkwardly stumble over explanations before correcting himself, and it feels much less gimmicky than Gus Johnson’s persistent nickname dropping and shouting. Their actual appearance in the game, though, doesn’t serve much purpose other than causing gamers to peer into the eyes of a seemingly embalmed virtual Simms. Ok, maybe we’re nitpicking here…

Run blocking, as it has been every year, is still rather problematic. It is possible to pick up 100 yards with your running back without an unrealistic number of carries, but you’ll still find yourself being sucked into logjams of bodies with no escape in sight. There’s still way too many instances of linemen and blockers dropping and missing assignments.

Kinect integration is moderately disappointing. Although you can call audibles and flip plays at the line of scrimmage, the lack of true play calling ability makes it feel more forced than fluid.

There’s not really a lot to dump on here. There’s a few skating issues and the occasional hiccup with the new Infinity Engine, but nothing that a title update or two won’t address.

The verdict

If you’re an avid sports gamer or virtual football junkie, then Madden 13 is a must-own. The game’s reworked physics make it worth buying on their own. The remodeled graphics, AI tweaks, and overhauled dynasty mode have also helped this franchise reinvigorate itself and provide a thoroughly entertaining gaming experience with high replayability.

Images via EA Sports, Operation Sports